Wo Hui Jia Le, I have come home

I’ve been home for two weeks now!! Did that really just happen?? Taiwan feels like a dream. It is so incredible to me that you’re just one plane ride away from a completely new world. Full of so many wonderful people living their lives.

It’s impossible to put into words what I’ve learned this year and how much I’ve come to love the people who have come into my life. I want to thank everyone. Ianne, Luisa, Lily, Paula, Kathya, Vinzent, Quentin, Rebecca, Marcello, Allegra, Beto, Martina T., Martina F., Hannah, Lena-Marie, Peter, Truman, Kotone, Asuka, Karina, Louis, Zoey, Mary, Marie, Chloe, Ysaline, Julian, Julain, Dominic, Christian, Andrea, Mel, Gui, Sergio, Ladia, Rianna, Hema, Gabe, Klara, Amelia, Joseph, Thomas, Judit, Efe, Charlotte, Lucy, Lydia, Lula, Karlsyn, Avery, Elly,  ChenYiChen, Rita, Claire, Lingling, Didi, Judy, Manpower, Eva, Mina, Yihan, Yolanda, Jason, Vivan, Lucy, Sohpie, Lily, Angela, Taylor, Nelson, Jeff, Ryan, Xiaoxiao, Guanwu, Stella, Paul, Quan qian, bishop huang and his wife, Irene, Cassie, Miles, Coach, PP Doctor, Jason, Pai wu, Pei Wei, Kay, Pauline, Ivy, the Winter guys, Alice, Akgong and Ama, our friends at Coco, my friend at the ctong jua bing stand and the security guard at our apartment.

Hopefully I’ve included everyone who became part of my life in Taiwan that I will hopefully remember forever. There are so many more people who should be included. What a tremendous challenge to finish that one year in Taiwan, and what an incredible opportunity that led to countless beautiful moments, friendships, discoveries and questions. There will never be a doubt in my mind that I was there for a reason beyond my understanding.

My flight was early in the morning. My Mexican and Brazilian friends Beto and Mel got up at 4 AM to be on time to see me. (they live far and there were no buses to the train station). They will never know how much that meant to me. I was awake from 3:30 onward after a fitful night of sleep. I’ve never seen a more beautiful sunrise and I will never forget walking to the window in the laundry room as the rest of the house slept and looking out at the sky on fire, sending me off in a blaze. Ianne had slept over and soon woke up to come with me to the airport. Luisa and my first host Dad picked me up which was so absolutely perfect to have those three people take me to the airport. I checked my bags as some more of my friends began to arrive. We talked, laughed and took pictures. It wasn’t until my host Dad tearfully wished me a safe flight that I realized what was truly happening. Just me and my exchange student friends now, I rushed to get everything ready to go. They gave me a giant group hug and I rushed over to the security door. With one final glance at everyone standing together, I went through the door to the security lines. I wish more than anything I had more time to tell them all how much they each meant to me and how they had made such a wonderful impact on my life. Really, there isn’t enough time in the world to tell express how I feel about the year we’ve shared.

Shaking, I approached the passport check station. I will never forget the incredible kindness of the woman working there. I handed her my passport full of Polaroid pictures and notes, forgetting they were in there. She handed them back to me asking if they were the friends I was leaving behind and told me I would see them all soon.

I boarded my flight after some last words through text with my family and friends in Taiwan. Much faster than I expected, I was walking through the Salt Lake City airport past the portraits of my beautiful state and all the English I could ever hope to read, and down the escalator into the arms of my family. We went immediately to Firehouse subs where I consumed a giant, delicious sandwich. The rest is history. I still have so many people I still need to see and so many things I’m excited for in my life. I feel such a comfort from being home and driving at night looking at the beautiful city I missed for so long, or waking up to hear the voices of the people I love and missed so dearly. It’s wonderful to go into every meal with confidence that I not only know what it is, but enjoy it thoroughly. hahaha

To everyone that has read through the months of misadventures, thank you for your support and love. I kept every letter and card. In fact, they were usually where I could see them and read your words of encouragement over and over. I can’t put into words how lovely it is to have your heart in so many places around the world. I’m so excited for the future and I hope especially that I can inspire other kids to take opportunities like this one, get outside their comfort zone and go out into the world to learn.

My first week coming back I had the chance to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the University of Utah. He spoke to me in a way that was perfect for my arrival home. He put into words the most important thing I’ve learned from this year:

“We are all the same; human.”

The Season of AC and small fans

Three weeks left. Yep, that’s really happening. I honestly can’t believe it. I mean what the heck!!? Is that just how life is? You wake up one day from nine months of marking each day off your calendar and you’ve come to the final stretch? It’s weird because I’ve been obsessing over my remaining time since day one, ticking off days and looking forward to certain events that have come and gone. It seemed like this year would just never be over. In retrospect, it has been the longest year of my life. Keeping such close tabs on time really slows things down. Sometimes, I needed that.

The weather here has been on and off with rain and beautiful, mild weather and huge puffy clouds. It started getting warmer a couple months ago so the fans and AC are officially on! I will say that I am happy to be returning soon to the land of snow and mild rainstorms. I am so beyond sick of rain hahaha It would be ok if I didn’t have to walk all over the place in it! My shoes, pants and backpack are always wet. I take a train, then a bus to school and walk a short distance from the bus stop and last week it was absolutely pouring!! All the streets had small floods and there were small pond-sized puddles everywhere. Walking from the bus stop to school was a like walking through a water park. Rain gutters were shooting out water, storm drains were overflowing and using an umbrella soon became pointless. It is the absolute worst feeling to walk through an unavoidable, shin deep puddle with your shoes and socks still on. The entire school was drenched head to foot so that was fun.

The past few days have been such a testament to how short a time I really have here. My classmates organized a farewell party for me yesterday because this week of school is essentially my last. We had pizza and I had a chance to talk to them all at once. I spoke English because I wanted it to be exactly what I meant. Even if they didn’t understand everything I said, I hope that they could feel the love that I have for them. I’ve failed to mention them very often in my other posts, but they made such an enormous positive impact on my exchange year. School was much more bearable with these 30 friendly kids. They truly did their best to help me feel welcome in their class despite how shy they were. They said friendly good mornings and were always more than willing to practice Chinese with me or help me out in some way. I became especially close with one girl, Wenling, who is headed to her exchange in California this summer. I am beyond excited for her. She is so kind and brave for venturing out of Taiwan and experiencing the world, I wish her all the best and I’m so grateful for her friendship this year. It was hard to talk to them at the party because I remembered every kind thing they had done for me and all of the memories I had of them goofing off and enjoying their year. They are near and dear to my heart and some of my very favorite people.

Today on the bus home from school, I talked with my friend who was an exchange student in the United States last year about her last days of exchange and how she felt coming home. It was nice to have that conversation with her and I feel like I’ve been developing a deeper love for Taiwan this last month than any of my previous time here. My host family is awesome and funny and I love them to pieces. My host sister is Roman’s age and the younger host sister is Emerson’s age (my two real brothers back home) which is funny that their ages match up. I guess their small poodle is Kate hahaha Truly host families are, in my opinion, one of the top three most important parts of exchange. A genuinely caring and loving host family makes an absolutely indescribable world of difference. My close friend Luisa and I have shared families this year and I’ve seen how big of difference it has made in each of our lives to interact with these families and build relationships with them. I’ve shared some of my favorite memories with these people and there really is no way to pay them back for their kindness and hospitality. They aren’t getting paid for this which is the truly amazing part. I honestly can’t thank them enough.

Aside from these unwanted, and very sad feelings of sentimentality, these past couple months have been quite fun at times and painfully boring at others. One of my favorite things ever was going to this theme park in Longtan with all of the exchange students from my high school, Ping Jen. So Ianne (Brazil), Quentin (France), and Vinzent (Germany) went all together with Ianne’s first host family. It was SO fun and revived the driving force of love and excitement in my life-rollercoasters. Ok, so granted there were like two actual roller coasters in the whole park, but I had such a good time. A massive log ride and a very strange indoor roller coaster were enough to help us have a lot of fun. The indoor roller coaster seemed immediately like a mistake. We sat in our seats in a long line of empty cars and proceeded to be pulled up a steep tunnel to where the roller coaster presumably began from the vantage point of highest potential energy within the small space of the warehouse we were in. All seemed well as we rode up through the neon-lined tunnel. We exited the tunnel, still going up, into an almost completely pitch black room where we could see faint outlines of cleaning and construction supplies past the vague structure of the ride. We were immediately worried that the ride was in fact, not in working order because the lighting concept was nothing short of bizarre. However, the ride worked fine and lit up occasionally and turned out to be super fun. The next ride, just as we peaked, I turned and yelled to Ianne “Who is that guy in the corner?!?!” which overdid its job of freaking Ianne out and made me progressively leery as we rode again and again. I am not afraid of roller coasters or bungee jumping or flying or heights. I am afraid of the dark! Anyway, that was a stress-relieving day for everyone and tons more fun than anyone, especially Ianne could have anticipated. (As we walked up to the entrance of the park she said to me “Ugh this is just a park for kids”, ten minutes later we were shown the map of bumper cars and roller coasters).

I had a wonderful visit with Rob Keller from my ward in Utah while he was in Taipei for work as an electrical engineer! It was so so so so nice to talk with someone from home. We had lunch at TGI Friday’s and I can say very honestly that I haven’t been that full on my entire exchange. What a great time to be able to have lunch with him! It really refreshed me for the following weeks. I had a small hope that my parents would hop out from around the corner as a surprise but sadly that wasn’t the case hahaha

I’ve visited some more beautiful places in Taiwan with my host family and friends. We recently went to Yehliu or the site of the ‘Queen’s head’. It’s a geographical national park where tons of strange rocks shaped by the tides are preserved and observed, with beautiful shapes and colors. I was really impressed by how tidy it was compared to other places in Taiwan! There was some garbage in a large tide pool, but other than that, the park was doing a pretty good job of keeping things clean. Which is pretty impressive considering I’m constantly watching people carelessly litter all over the streets in the city. Anyway, we explored the beautiful park and took in all the scenery, wildlife and hoards of Chinese people visiting from close by. I have a personal policy to never stereotype an entire country of people, but the Chinese are very… different hahahah even from Taiwanese! Their accent was strange to hear but good prepping for me because that’s probably the Chinese I’ll be hearing in the United States. They were all a little pushy in the lines but seemed civil enough. Very classic head-to-toe-shaded-from-the-sun tourists and were quite entertaining to watch at times as they were fined over and over again for crossing clear, red lines to take pictures near the ocean. We rested atop a small hill looking out at the park and ate mango ice. It was delicious and so refreshing and such a wonderful vantage point. Really a cool moment! Afterwards, we walked through the little seaside market outside of the park gates then went to the ‘old street’ in nearby Yilan. There are a handful of these ‘old streets’ throughout the cities in Taiwan. They are wide enough for cars, but only foot traffic is allowed. People line the streets with little carts and booths in front of all kinds of little stores and restaurants. It’s probably the best place to get a real feel for Taiwanese culture and traditional foods. There is always, tapioca ball milktea, tofu ice cream, stinky tofu, assortments of dried herbs and mushrooms, traditional Chinese medicine and everything in between.

Food in Taiwan is always really hit-or-miss for me and that day was great for snacks and horrible for meals. The noodles were classically mild, but the other dishes were bamboo (save it for the pandas), boiled cabbage (just why. It’s everywhere. At EVERY meal) and the worst of all; Large intestine and sour vegetable dish-served cold. I don’t know if any of you have a taste for things that are smoked but served cold, heck I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but it was like that. Only more sour. I’ve had that dish before and It’s up there with stinky tofu.

I’ve loved living in Taoyuan. Luisa and I are unique in that we’ve lived in three different cities; Yangmei, Zhongli and Taoyuan, all progressively northward. Most exchange students in our district just live in a few different places in one city during the course of their exchange year. Taoyuan is one of Taiwan’s more prominent cities and is pretty big. It’s about a twenty minute drive from the airport and a thirty minute drive to Taipei. Which is crazy to me because (for all the Utahns reading) it’s approximately the same distance as downtown Salt lake to Ogden or Provo. It’s hard to get that perspective, however, because I’m never really on hills or mountain side roads like I am when I’m in Salt Lake and there are so many huge buildings everywhere. So anyway, where I live now, there’s a lot to do and a lot of other exchange students who live nearby, which is really fun.

I’ve enjoyed exploring more of the city here and getting to know it a bit better. You don’t have to look far to be surprised or to find something new. That’s ultimately what I’ve loved the most about being on exchange. There is just a seemingly endless supply of new experiences, places and people. I helped a lost 23-year-old woman from Israel at the train station after school a few weeks ago and was able to have a really good conversation with her about life in Israel and her life of traveling the past few months. She really helped me feel less stressed about making a decision about what to do with my future. She said, “that seems to be kind of a problem in America, everybody goes to college right after high school and isn’t really old enough to know which path they want to choose. In Israel, we all have to do military service after high school so we’re almost forced to take some time off, travel and make plans for the future.” That was really cool to hear, because even if you are in a cultural situation, like most Americans are, and you’re expected and anticipating to serve a mission or go straight to college, you should take it slow and leave time to see new places, meet new people and make plans for the future.

It’s been so fun to talk to foreigners. I wish we were more friendly with each other I want to go up to every non-Asian person I see and ask them everything about their lives hahaha I actually only see like one foreign person every day not counting the other exchange students. It will be weird to come home to seas of “foreigners”. It’s weird to say that because I was thinking the same thing about being surrounded by Asians when I got here!

I’m really looking forward to these last few weeks of exchange. We have our big end of year trip to the East of Taiwan with all the exchange students and even the Taiwanese exchange students who are going out this summer! I’m so excited, it’s the only area of Taiwan I haven’t been! Thinking of the scenery I’m going to be able to see on the trip makes me wish cameras could capture the beauty that I’ve seen so far. I really wish you could all experience it.

There are huge jungly hills everywhere and beside the sea especially, there are these enormous slopes that dive straight into the ocean. Sea-level land is very limited and that’s my favorite stretch of land in Taiwan. There’s this road I’ve traveled a few times that weaves in and out of the jungle in the mountains to give you a spectacular view of the ocean until your next to the mountain and beside the sea, passing through little towns and looking out at the waves. It’s a pretty big stretch of road up in the far North of Taiwan past Taipei, which is also a super fun city to drive past. Taipei really is such a cool city. There is a lot of creative architecture and street art. It’s indescribable. It definitely has the feel of any normal big city, but it just has it’s own Taiwanese culture wrapped up in everything. Big temples dotting the skyline and Taipei 101 of course towering over everything. It was cool to go to Taipei to see Rob Keller because I was able to take a metro up above the road past the airport that flies to the islands of Taiwan, through a cool metropolitan area just west of Taipei’s city borders and over a little river. Really cool area. There are even soccer fields surrounding Taipei! I would kill to live near one hahaha

Another big thing that happened was our Chinese proficiency test! It’s the Chinese equivalent of the TOEFL which is an internationally proctored test for non-native English speakers. Most of the exchange students in our district took it at a university in Zhongli. There were probably like forty other foreigners there taking it with us. We sat at little computers in a freezing room for about an hour or so while we took the test. There is a speaking, reading, writing and listening portion of the exam in three bands, each band contains two levels. Depending on what you signed up for, you either take Band A, Band B or Band C and your scores in those bands determines where you are on a scale from one to six, higher than six being native-speaker level. I chose to take the Band A listening and reading portion. You listen to a series of Chinese conversations and match up the correct answer for the picture and practice reading comprehension on the other section. I was more nervous than I thought I would be, but I’ve always been a really fast test-taker (I either know it or I don’t) so it was over pretty quick. I was one point short of passing level two on listening and about mid-range for level one on reading. This was about the same as all the other exchange students with about six passing level two for both and two passing levels three and four in a separate exam. It was a good experience and I will continue to study Chinese when I come home and take the test again.

Well, I think that about brings you up to date on everything that’s been going on with me. I hope to be better about writing as I go through these last few weeks and my traveling in the East of Taiwan! Thanks again for all the support, especially my wonderful parents and my Grandma Pat! Your emails and encouragement are what’s kept me going. Love you all!





The Unparalleled Avoidance of Stinky Tofu

It’s been a little over seven months!! I absolutely can not believe it. I’ve had a pretty mellow month, but of course I’ve had the chance to see some pretty amazing things!

I guess I should mention my title, I plan to avoid stinky tofu for my whole time here in Taiwan. Judge me if you will for not eating the most iconic, well-known, Taiwanese food, but I have had my fill of strange foods and I’ve never denied a single one! Also you can’t judge because your nostrils have never been plagued by the putrid smell that gives stinky tofu it’s name. (spoiler alert, it smells like poo)

This last month, our school played host to nine exchange students from Dallas. We took one of those students, a sophomore girl, to see a temple in Daxi, which is a bit to the Northeast of where I live. It was a complete torrential down pore, but given that the students were only there for one week, we couldn’t exactly postpone this outing. We climbed more than one hundred steps to the top of a hill where a temple sat overlooking the Daxi area. It’s interesting to notice the contrasts between Buddhist temples and the temples I’m more familiar with as a member of the LDS church. Sheltered from the rain in the church, we marveled, as usual, at the intricate details covering every surface of the temple. Seriously that is some tricky decorating and I learned it’s almost always hand-carved or painted!! So cool! A quote that always comes into my mind when I’m in temples is from an Australian girl I met here who went home in January, she said: “Paige, in every temple there’s a toilet”. This is true for every temple I’ve been in and a stark contrast from the rest of the nation.

We were able to look around the temple lead by our Chinese teacher and we collected some pretty cool books and posters of Buddha. I’ve learned a lot about Buddhism since I’ve been here and to me, it seems for most people, it’s more of a culture than a religion. I think this might come from the fact that so many people practice it, that it’s become a way of life for many Asians. It’s cool to see almost an entire continent united under similar beliefs and practices. Anyway, the next day we were able to take the same student and the rest of her group (including two teachers and eight more students) to a pineapple cake factory and the top of Taipei 101. Which was awesome. I spoke briefly with the female teacher (from Dallas). She asked me mostly questions about why I’d decided to come to Taiwan, how long I’d been here, what foods I was the most homesick for and if my parents were coming to visit. It wasn’t an inherently negative conversation, but I was little bit annoyed she’d brought all of this up instead of asking about my experiences in Taiwan, cool people I’d met or even what what I liked about the place. I could tell she was having some culture shock herself. That’s why I think it’s important to do stuff like this, branch out, get outside your comfort zone etc.

The top of Taipei 1o1 was probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve had so far in Taiwan. It’s the third tallest building in the world and stands out in Taipei’s skyline like a sore thumb. The elevator is the fastest in the world and is somehow void of uncomfortable changes in atmospheric pressures as you go up really high, really fast. I would have preferred to see us going up and up like with a glass elevator or something and wouldn’t have minded taking a couple extra minutes for that but that’s not the culture and the architecture of the building doesn’t really provide for that kind of experience. At the top, There are floor to ceiling windows going all the way around the 89th floor, and they were all brilliant white because it was a really cloudy, foggy day. As we walked around, little pockets formed through the clouds where we could see all the way down to the ground. I could have stayed there all day. On the floor below, there is a GIANT wind damper almost twenty feet in diameter and over 700 hundred tons. It is beautiful and big and reduces the movement of Taipei 101 by 40% using some kind of tricky physics that I don’t understand. That is one of my favorite places of all time. The heart of Taipei 101. In the stairwell, we looked over the railing down 89 flights of stairs. CRAZY, One of the moments I was there where I realized how high up we actually were.

Walking around a little bit in Taipei, I discovered (unfortunately broke) a Krispy Kreme doughnuts place while I looked for a bathroom. Taipei is really, really cool city. Everything about it is innovative, and not to mention, expensive.

It’s been raining for at least a million years. I didn’t even know it was possible to rain this much. Or how much I dislike the rain. Utah is perfect. It rains enough that it leaves you appreciative of those kinds of cozy days. Here I’m thwarted by never-drying socks and shoes and I’m slipping all over the place because all the floors are covered in condensation. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of this, but I’m also not really looking forward to the steamy summers.

I recently read, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, for my online English class. What a cool book!! I hadn’t even thought about that part of the Holocaust and was so inspired by Victor E. Frankl. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it! It really put my petty sufferings here into perspective. I can’t believe what those people, and people in similar situations today, are forced to go through. I’ve loved my online English class for some reason. It’s full of cool poems and chances to analyze stories. Maybe this is how Language Arts has been my whole life and I just haven’t appreciated it until now.

School has been kind of a thorn in my side recently. We, the exchange students, take the most pointless classes of all time where we understand nothing. I really only go to school for my three hour Chinese classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The school day is about eleven hours (7:30 to 5:00) and just really really really long and tedious. I have never felt like I’ve wasted more time. There’s little to do except study Chinese, or try to that is. I don’t feel like I’m making very much progress.

It’s been a pretty stressful few weeks trying to finish up online classes and get ready for college while trying to live in the moment here and enjoy the time I have in this cool place with the people I’ve met. It’s hard to get discouraged at times like these on exchange but it’ll be over soon and I need to enjoy it! I can’t believe how quickly time has passed!!

Thanks for all the support! I love hearing from people back home! I was so touched when one of my friends from high school reconnected with me the other day to let me know he “hadn’t forgotten about me”.


Pizza Logistics

One truth I’ve discovered is true everywhere in the world; Pizza is the most desired food in the entire world. I have never met anyone who doesn’t like pizza and anywhere you go in the world, you can draw people into any activity with pizza. I went to an English lesson at my church here because there was free pizza. People ask if I miss food from home and I just smile and hold up my pizza.

I really do miss food from home. When I anticipated eating strange food in Taiwan I didn’t think we would eat it all the time for every meal every day! Young and naive I went into the  country with little mental preparation for the strangeness I was about to encounter. I have eaten the intestine of pretty much every animal, chicken feet, fish head, greenish brown hard boiled eggs, sea urchin, sea cucumber, pig skin, and raw fish (no not in sushi). When we aren’t eating crazy animal innards, we are eating any number of cold, boiled vegetables. I came here as a semi-picker and now I don’t think there’s any kind of anything I haven’t tried. Ok except alligator and monkey brains. I’m lucky I’m not in China, apparently the food is even worse there. I was invited over to a friend’s house a while ago for leftovers from when here Hong Kong native in-laws had come stay with them. That was definitely the most bizarre dinner in my time here. There were chicken heads in the soup. I know because I ladled one out. I was sorely mistaken when I thought Chinese food would be anything close to Panda Express. I have not eaten Chow Mein here and the lack of spring rolls has been very dissatisfying.

Chinese is completely impossible don’t ever try to learn it. You think for a minute you have a hold on it and you start talking to your family and friends with confidence sometimes even using the tones correctly, then, THEN you take a practice test for the Chinese competency test you’re supposed to take in May and you realize that there’s an incredible thing happening with the grammar; you can know every single character in the sentence and still have NO IDEA WHAT THE SENTENCE IS SAYING. Below I have provided some direct translations of some of the test questions. (they are just situations to describe a picture and you have to pick which picture matches the description)

“My family all together three mouth people” There are three people in my family

“Tree under one present also doesn’t have” There isn’t even one present under the tree

“Bus quickly 2:00 only comes” The bus is late and finally arrived at almost 2:00

“little sister is 10:00 all leave house” I think you can figure some of these out on your own, but I think maybe you can see how I’m a little confused all the time. Wish me luck on the test lol

Lots has been going on lately with school, we recently got all new classes and only have two hours a week of exchange student specific classes anymore due to the departure of some of the most fun people at school, the English interns who taught us calligraphy, Chinese folk art, and Chinese chess among others. So now we are moving on to the big leagues with our all-Chinese classes. Although Chinese grammar on paper is really difficult, just speaking person-to-person is pretty basic. Most of the time when people are speaking, they use sentences patterned like the following phrases;

“Ni hao kan” You good look

“ku yi ma?” can?

So talking is a lot easier than trying to dissect tricky sentences. I’m starting to lose all my ability to spell anything correctly in English and I’m starting to pick up weird English from the foreigners I spend a lot of time with. Hopefully I will be able to return to the United States with fluency in at least my native language.

I’ve traveled around quite a bit recently because we had so much time off from school. We went to Taichung with my host parents (we being my new host sister and I) and we saw an innately and very tediously constructed Vincent Van Gough’s  “Starry Night” made entirely of used plastic bottles. It was giant, spanning maybe three football fields side by side on at the bottom of a giant hill where the trees had been cleared, which seems to be a little ironic considering the whole point of this was to promote the power and beauty that can come from recycling while they were participating in deforestation. Anyway we continued our journey with my Chinese class (Ianne and I) and our Chinese teacher and her family through Yilan and Pingxi. Just imagine the canyons of Utah covered in Jungle. With the occasional four-foot spider web complete with ten-inch spider.

While we stopped to try some local sausages at a little stand on the roadside, we took a quick trip to the bathroom only to find a balcony looking out on a giant rain-foresty cliff with several crystal clear pools of turquoise tinted water over which flowed a large river. From our vantage point, I could tell that unless you braved the dense jungle vegetation, you couldn’t see this spectacle from anywhere else except the twenty or so square foot space where we were standing at the edge of back road sausage stand. It was a popular tourist destination, and we were the only ones standing there marveling it, but it was one of the most truly magical places I have ever seen. It made me wonder how many more places were like this, not just in Taiwan, but the whole world! How many wonderful little secrets are all around us that we haven’t discovered? It kind of stressed me out thinking about this because I know even hiking every day of last summer with my cousin through the mountains surrounding Salt Lake that it would be impossible to give proper admiration to all of the gloriously beautiful outlooks and trails that snake through almost every part of our little mountain bowl.

I think the whole point of exchange is to just try and find as many places like this as possible in the short time you’re there. I’m glad I’m in Taiwan because it’s not a super popular tourist destination, there’s still so much to explore and so many places waiting to be admired.

I have about four months here, my departure date is June 16th. Soon after which I will be moving on to Utah State University in Logan, Utah and then on to probably Harvard or Yale medical school. (If someone is reading this that doesn’t know my high school grade point average, I won’t correct you if you actually think this is true.) Life is moving pretty fast! I was at my host parent’s friend’s house last night in Yingge and they were all drinking wine so they gave me some Hey Song Sarsaparilla which is like a tangy root beer soda and my nose was in the cup when I went to take a sip (It took me a long time to think of how to describe this action haha) and I could smell it and taste it at the same time and I was like AHHH I HAVEN’T HAD THIS SINCE MY FIRST LITTLE WHILE IN TAIWAN WHOAA MEMORIES hahaha I couldn’t believe how vividly the memory in my mind was of my second day in Taiwan dinner with my new family where I had first tried this drink. Today after church, at Costco with my family, I don’t know why, but I was reminded of Grandma Pat when I drank this hot lemonade. I know you’re reading this Grandma so if you could explain this connection I would appreciate it hahaha. Is it ok to say “hahaha” in a blog? I don’t know how else to make sure people see that what I’m saying is supposed to be funny hahaha.

I talked a lot yesterday with my brothers back home and I am really starting to appreciate technology. Every one is always dissing on technology saying it’s destroying human connection and all this BS but I owe my life and continued friendship with friends and family from home to Samsung and Dell.

Thanks for all the support!! Feel free to drop me line or send me sandwich from Jimmy John’s or Firehouse via email paigegardner09@gmail.com, thanks.


Half Way There Ohh Oh Livin On a Prayer

Yes thank you, I know, very creative title.

This a little lengthy I get sentimental..? What’s the word for talking about how you plan on being sentimental in the near future? Anyway, peruse at your leisure.

So I’m almost (or past, I’m not sure) but somewhere around my halfway mark! How incredible. How strange. I just spent some time reading through some old posts and marveled at how things have changed and how my understanding of this country and people has grown.

Lately, the biggest challenge for me has been the culture. I thought culture shock only happened your first few months?? I guess this is the second wave. I am constantly learning new things and discovering different customs and habits that are teaching me understanding and patience. I am growing continually wary of eating strange things time and time again. Although., I’m grateful for this because I will just be all the more appreciative of my mom’s enchiladas when I come home. I am glad to be in Asia because the culture so wildly different that I think here, unlike any other region of the world, outsiders are given the opportunity for serious reflection on their own culture and an analysis of a different one.

We are currently on our winter vacation which has given me time to switch families and explore Taiwan in a little more depth. Switching host families was brutally bittersweet. I remember fondly getting an email from them explaining their role in my life in Taiwan. They were part of what I first envisioned of my life here and that to me is invaluable. I am so grateful for the sacrifices they made for me. It helped me appreciate more of what my biological parents have done for me and how often I took that for granted (sorry parents). I am confident I will remain close friends with this family and they will always have a tremendously special place in my heart.

My new family provides me more opportunities to grow and learn about Taiwanese culture from a different family and perspective. Being with another family helps me distinguish Taiwanese culture from a particular family’s personal culture. Needless to say, there is still so very much I have yet to understand and even more that I will just have to be understanding about.

The most impressive aspect of culture here for me continues to be Buddhism. I love the temples, the monks and the ancient culture of it. I can’t believe how intricate the temples are and the lengths at which people go to create similar shrines in their own homes. I am impressed by their dedication and reminded of Sister Elaine S. Dalton’s LDS general conference talk about creating our own holy places. I love to see connections and similarities between Buddhism and Mormonism (for those of you reading this, yes I am a Mormon ((Latter Day Saint))) and yes, there are many(connections)! Ok rambling on… sorry

So in retrospect of my time in Taiwan so far and looking toward the future, I can’t believe all of it. I can’t believe the insane magnitude of decisions and how important it is to make good, brave decisions. For instance, I can’t imagine that at one point in time I made the decision to come here and at what point I decided to stick it out when it became difficult to see that initial decision through to the end. I also can’t believe how many things, outside of our control, come as consequence of our decisions, for good and bad. I’ve come to love so many wonderful, kind, beautiful people here and I’m so grateful that they were consequences of my choice to come here. I’m grateful that my capacity to love and understand people has grown larger than I ever thought possible. You truly never know how much you love your family and friends  until you’re miles and miles away from them wishing you hadn’t taken the time with them for granted.

The exchange students from my home district (7 of us girls from Utah) are in the process of creating a video for the up incoming exchange students who will leave next year. One of the questions that really got me thinking was “were goodbyes hard for you” referencing the time we left our families in the United States. The answer, in the words of Jeffery R. Holland were “an absolute and unequivocal yes” but it made me think about saying goodbye at the end of this year to the life I’ve built here in Taiwan. I can’t believe that it will never be as it is now and how quickly the time has passed and will continue to pass. I can almost feel time tugging me along. I think of the best friend I’ve come to know and love here, my Brazilian friend and I wonder how in the world we ended up in this exact same situation and how many factors had to add up for this to happen and how I’ll have to say goodbye to her and so many others and how so many times in life you just kind of have to realize how good and perfect a moment is and let it pass. I think that’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far on exchange.

With the next half of my exchange in front of me, I think of the wise words of Abe Lincoln when he said; “whatever you are, be a good one.” So these next few months I’m going to try be the best exchange student ever. Not just learn Chinese and eat everything my family gives me even if it moves and stares at me, I mean that I’m going to live in the moment, experience places and people and use the experiences I’ve had here and the lessons I’ve learned to plan for the future.

Thanks for the continuing love and support and for the prayers. I can truly feel it all. I miss and love you and can’t wait to see you come mid-June! Please if you see my mission-age friends, hold onto them a little longer so I can see them before I leave!

P.S. I don’t want to go all political on you but please, in light of the election coming up soon words of advice from my young naive mind, please don’t vote for Donald.



Hey Yo

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written on here!! I wrote about a week ago, but lost Wi-fi and therefore lost my super long draft and got really discouraged. Nevertheless, here I am again and I will try to remember what I wrote and everything from the time I last published something.  Spoiler Alert: I will ramble.

First thing’s first, a little culture lesson. Taiwanese people are the most polite people in the world but they will laugh shamelessly at your Chinese which is both disconcerting and relieving. Being a non-native speaker is like being a toddler learning to speak; only your family understands what you’re saying. The weather here is very bipolar and sometimes completely freezing, but wet so that everything goes through your clothes. There remains no room for outward expansion, every building is up up up. I enjoy this because I love a great view. The mountains are inhabited by the indigenous people and their descendants. It’s a lot like Native American culture, I love to learn about their customs and beliefs. The mountains are usually misty and mysterious. I love the way the clouds form in tropical mountains, they look like something from the movie ‘Neverendingstory’ even though I’ve never seen that movie, I imagine these clouds belong somewhere in the set of that film. Sometimes, I just look around when I’m walking down the street or when I smell a smell similar to my first days here and suddenly I’m like “WHOA I’M IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY WOW EVERYTHING IS FOREIGN” and I really really love these moments.

Chinese is as interesting as ever and my most useful language learning tool has recently been the standard works now available in Chinese and the language study editions which are like, on one page, a column for Chinese characters, a column for how the characters sound spelled in English and then a column of English. SO AWESOME. Another effective tool is my notebook I carry with me always. I write down how Chinese words or phrases sound when someone tells me something new. It’s super full and I’m so proud of it.

I continue to oggle (word from the vernacular of Harold Crick from stranger than fiction) every temple in the entire country, mostly Buddhist, but on Sunday I saw the LDS temple for the first time and was filled with such a warm and familiar spirit only found on the grounds of a temple. It was Sunday so I wasn’t able to perform baptisms or go inside, but I was guided by the spirit through the open doors of the stake center next to the temple where we found the English ward meeting at their Christmas celebration sacrament meeting. It was so so so so so nice to hear an English sacrament meeting and English Christmas hymns. I sat outside in the foyer holding my American flag (we had been taking pictures with it) and I felt like I was home. I am so grateful for the gospel. Never in my life has it felt so tangible. I’ve seen the power of prayer and faith like I never have before.

I recently (a month ago) returned from an incredible trip to the south of Taiwan, mainly Kenting and Kaoshiung. I was amazed by how beautiful the beaches were and how warm the weather was! I have never in my life experienced 90 degrees (F) in November! I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel around the way we did. I remember one moment specifically as we drove on our last night to the resort near Sun Moon Lake: We had about a two hour bus ride to the resort and had a chance to see a lot of farm land around the time the sun was setting. I love lines and everything geometric. I also love plants and everything green and growing so my eyes were glued to the window the whole ride. I will never get sick of looking out the window here. Whether I’m at school, on the bus or in the car, I can’t help it I am drawn to windows and scenery. I’m not sure why, but everything is ninety times more beautiful when you’re emotionally vulnerable. Hahaha. I’ve learned a lot about vulnerability here and how to confront and accept it. I saw a TED talk, even, about it and I’m so convinced now that vulnerability is the corner-stone of every wonderful experience and relationship. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and take risks to have awesome experiences. You have to be willing to ask for help or ask if someone needs help, even just telling someone you love them without expecting a response.

I’ve also seen how crazy big a disadvantage it is in communication to have a different native language than someone with whom you want to express an idea or opinion to. Sometimes, basic communication is not enough. It’s heartbreaking for me to hear from an Italian exchange student here who says she feels like a different person in English because she struggles to adequately tell us her thoughts and feelings. I love to be able to say even a few words (even if they are rude words) in someone’s native language to have common ground with them. For instance, I’ve learned that every language has a phrase or word that means a million things and you can use it for everything ie; Portuguese: Eita, Spanish: Que Pedo?, Chinese: Ay-yo, gan ma. The English equivalent might be something like “What the heck?” or “really(?)”. In Taiwan, unlike many other foreign countries currently inhabited by my exchange student comrades, people are so encouraging if you just know one or two phrases or a few simple words to talk with them.

For instance, I just had the most magical experience with a woman at the train station as a non-coincidental result of having BARELY missed my train. After realizing I now had thirty extra minutes in the station, I found myself a seat next to a woman, who, to put it nicely, looked like she had been alive long enough to see fall of the Roman Empire. She began speaking to me in Chinese after I gave her some money to pay for her train ticket. She gave me in return, a huge sack of cherry tomatoes and a lot of background information about her children who traveled to the United States. Because of my sub-par  Chinese speaking skills, I now know her children were either delivered mail or were students at a university. I’m guessing the latter. Anyway, we talked and she gave me the tomatoes and asked me about Christmas and my family. I’m so glad I missed my train today.

Speaking of Christmas, it absolutely does not feel like Christmas but our school completely covered the giant front entrance with Christmas decorations and it now looks like a giant balloon, ornament, snowman party. I’m very grateful for this and lucky to have a school that appreciates Christmas and all it’s tinsel and glory hahahaha I would kill to smell some snow. Yes snow has a smell, you just don’t realize it until you are in a tropical climate void of snow. I listened to the song Outro by the band M83 and closed my eyes as I imagined gliding at lightning speed down the slopes of Brighton Ski Resort in my city in the United States. I consciously listened to this song at the most beautiful peaks while skiing so when I listened to it outside of that environment, I would be able to remember the sensation and scenery. I recommend this memorization technique. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I could see every tree and path of the ski slopes so clearly in my mind. It’s cool when you’re away from everything you knew, you start to prioritize what you miss and what means the most to you. So far the list is as follows: Family, Friends, Skiing, Soccer (watching and playing), Sunsets and Mexican food (especially my mom’s enchiladas).

Speaking of my mom’s enchiladas, the best dinner I’ve ever had in my entire life consisted of home-made enchiladas and root beer at the bishop’s house with my seminary teacher. That was a great day. After dinner, we were able to attend the baptism of a 13-year-old girl whose mother had just been baptized the week before. I felt the spirit of love shared by the missionaries who had helped to convert this family. We sang Silent Night (in chinese) and I finally realized that it was Christmas and that I hadn’t hugged a blood relative in over four months. Needless to say, I cried and tears just kind of fell out of my eyes, they didn’t even roll down my cheeks. Kind of a weird detail but that has never happened before so I thought I’d include it hahaha

Other cultural experiences of these past few months include another bellydancing performance and a trip to Taipei (to see the LDS temple) but also to see the National Palace museum and a memorial hall for a famous, past Taiwanese hero who’s up there with Winston Churchill for these guys. I don’t know much about him, but from the Lincoln Memorial-style monument built for him, I’d like to say (as non-ignorantly as possible) that he seems like a really cool guy. It was cool to go to this location because I’d anticipated seeing it before I came when I googled pictures of Taiwan and these buildings were in the search results, it truly is a surreal (is there a word for something more extreme than surreal?) feeling when something like this happens. It’s like when I saw my school here for the first time after google-map’sing it at least one hundred times before coming. Even with the experience of seeing so many pictures of Taiwan via Google, nothing prepared me for the unique sights, sounds and smells of Taiwan. A favorite snowboarder, explorer (Travis Rice) or mine once said; “Experiencing the world through second hand information is not enough, if we want authenticity, we have to initiate it.”

I look back on my months here and the experiences I’ve had so far and I think how true those words sound. They were among some of the most powerful in inspiring me to go on exchange, along with Walter Mitty. I get chills every time I listen to the song ‘I lived’ by OneRepublic and everyday, I’m more and more grateful that I took this crazy opportunity to leap out of my comfort zone and experience this amazing and it’s people first-hand. Taiwan seems like a cross-roads for Asians. I’ve met people from every single Asian country I can name. It’s been really cool to see the similarities and differences between different cultures and people, even among the exchange students. One thing remains true with every people, respect and kindness are ESSENTIAL in every interaction. I’ve been so lucky to meet so many kind people here and my perspective on international relations has really broadened since I’ve come here.

I can’t wait for more to come!! As always, feel free to drop me a line, my email is paigegardner09@gmail.com

Also, if you’ve read far enough to see this, listen to Coldplay’s new album, it’s DOPEE.

Also Also, Marsha Wilson if you’re reading this, all my friends here know about the “NOBODY CAREEEEES” thing and we say it ALL THE TIME hahahahaha

I miss and love you all